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Sermon for Lent V (Judica)

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ April 11th, 2011

Sermon on Hebrews 9:11-15 and St. John 8:46-59

Lent V (Judica)

+ In the Name of Jesus +

You’ve probably heard of Christ’s threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King. These three facets of the person and work of Christ shape this portion of the church year. Last Sunday, Lent IV (Jn 6:1-15), the crowds identified Jesus as “the prophet” who had come into the world (Jn 6:14). Today, our Epistle preaches His work as our High Priest (Heb 9:11-15). Next Sunday, Palm Sunday, will present Him as our King who comes to save us (Matt. 21:1-9). I would like to focus on two aspects of Christ’s role as our High Priest this morning: (1) the blood of the atonement and (2) the bread of His presence.

Using rich OT imagery, the author of Hebrews describes the work of Christ in the language of the Day of Atonement. Recall the Day of Atonement, the annual event when the high priest of Old would enter the Holy of Holies, the innermost part of the sanctuary. In Leviticus 16[:33], we read, “[The high priest] shall make an atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make an atonement for the tabernacle of the congregation, and for the altar, and he shall make an atonement for the priests, and for all the people of the congregation.” And so, on this, the great feast day of ancient Israel, the high priest participated in several sacrifices, assisted by as many as 50 priests. We should especially highlight the two sacrificial goats: one slaughtered for the sprinkling of blood in the most holy place, and another to be sent into the wilderness to die as the scapegoat for the sins of the people. In the spirit of Aaron, the first high priest of Israel, each successive high priest would take the blood of the sacrificial goat behind the veil, into the Holy of Holies (parallel to our altar-table), and walk in shadows behind the curtain, where he sprinkled blood and prayed for the people. This was the only time anyone entered the Holy of Holies and the only time the sacred name of God, Yahweh, was ever spoken aloud. Christ is our great High Priest, our scapegoat, and our once-for-all sacrifice. He has entered the Holy of Holies of His Father’s presence, purified us with His own blood, and won for us the promised eternal inheritance: forgiveness and eternal salvation.

However, this inheritance is only for those who are sons of God by faith. Today’s Gospel lesson tells us of how many Jews rejected Jesus’ identity as their great High Priest. Discussing what it means to be a child of Abraham, Jesus called the unbelieving Jews to repentance and faith. “If I tell you the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” Many Jews of Jesus’ day thought that Abraham’s DNA, coursing through their bloodline and family tree, was enough for salvation. Hence, they believed in justification without faith. But Jesus called them to His identity as God: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” This phrase “I am” echoes the exodus story, where God told Moses to say to Pharoah that the great “I am” had sent Him–the one who was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. The Jews didn’t get it. In their mind, either you were a man or you were God; but certainly not both. But as God and man, Jesus was Divine and human; the great High Priest and the bloody sacrifice; the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the sacrificial Lamb of God. And it is only through faith in Him that Jew or Gentile can stand righteous before God.

See how the blood of the atonement is the work of Christ, our great High Priest, for us and for our salvation! Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins (Heb. 9:22). This Lent, and especially this coming Holy Week, we come face to face with blood and death as we “ponder now on Thy holy passion,” as the hymn puts it. How do you react to the Passion of Christ? How do you respond when you see a nice bloody crucifix? What do you think of the DVD “The Passion of the Christ” or a painting such as Rembrandt’s “Descent from the Cross”? There are two ways to respond to the mystery of the crucified God. We can find subtle detours around the cross. “I don’t like that talk about blood; it’s not very joyful.” “Our church body has an empty cross because Jesus came down from the cross.” “In our culture, people don’t like all that talk about blood and death.” Do these bypasses around the crucified One explain why church attendance on Good Friday is typically low, but attendance on Easter Sunday is usually off the charts? Repent! “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.”

But with the blood of Christ, the once-for-all sacrifice, there is life for you and me. That’s the rich portrait of Christ we receive today, the Fifth Sunday in Lent. It’s also known as “Judica” Sunday, from the Introit, “Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation.” God the Father has judged the Son to death on the cross, condemning Him to die our death. And today is also called “Passion Sunday,” presumably because we are prepared to follow the Lord’s Passion as Holy Week begins one week from today. So the composite picture is richest and purest Gospel: Christ is our blood of the atonement, and his blood means new life for dying sinners like you and me. As our first distribution hymns puts it: “The holy Lamb undaunted came / To God’s own altar lit with flame; While weeping angels his their eyes, This Priest became a sacrifice” (LSB 624.3).

If the blood of Christ preaches the atonement, then the bread of the presence preaches the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament. Do you remember the bread of the presence from the OT? The bread of the presence of God was baked weekly and placed on a table along the northern side of the Holy of Holies, somewhat parallel to our credence table on your left. It was made of the finest wheat flour and arranged in twelve cakes (two piles of six each), according to the twelve tribes of Israel. The presence of fresh bread, along with incense and the anointing of oil, reminded Israel that God was with them. It pointed back in time to the wilderness wandering, where Israel received her daily bread from God. And it pointed ahead to Christ, the Bread of Life, who came as our spiritual sustenance. The bread of the presence, then, was an emblem of the Messiah (Edersheim, The Temple, 123-126, esp. 125). It said that Israel owned God’s presence as their bread and life. Apart from Him, they only had starvation and death, both physically and spiritually. But where God was present as their daily bread, Israel had life and had it abundantly. It’s somewhat parallel to walking into a good NY bagel shop and smelling fresh yeast and dough. You know by the smell that the bagel, the basic stuff of the NY breakfast on the go, is ready to eat.

Today’s Gospel lesson follows on the heels of Jesus’ discourse on the Bread of Life in John 6. If you had a chance to read the rest of John 6 this past week, the “rest” of last Sunday’s Gospel lesson, you discovered that Jesus used the miracle of feeding the 5,000 as a hinge to His identity as the Bread of Life. Jesus said, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (v. 27). And again, “Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven” (v. 32). And yet again, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (v. 35). And the final claim that set the unbelieving Jews against Jesus, even to death: “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (v. 51). To the unbelieving Jews, this was blasphemy. No wonder the multitude of thousands deserted Jesus. The unbelieving leaders then picked up the argument in John 8 (today’s Gospel lesson), challenging Jesus’ claim to be the great “I am.” But for those who believe, Jesus is the bread that satisfies the hungry, even to everlasting life.

See how the bread of the presence is fulfilled in our midst in the Lord’s Supper. I hope as you heard our brief commentary on the bread of the presence and on Jesus’ claims in John 6, that you yourselves were thinking of and longing for this bread in the Blessed Sacrament. The parallels are unmistakable: fresh bread; a weekly presentation; an altar or table in God’s house; the ritual significance that the smell of fresh bread says life; the command to eat of the bread that lasts forever; and the promise to strengthen and preserve you steadfast in the true faith to life everlasting. The Lord’s Supper is no ordinary bread; rather, this is the Bread of Life Himself, whose promise simply cannot fail: “This is my body.” He who eats of this bread shall live forever. No wonder the Lord’s Supper is called the “medicine of immortality.” Those who eat this bread have life and have it to the fullest. Yeah, those who eat of this bread, even though they did, shall live forever. As the hymn puts it, “Our hungry mouths from Him receive / The bread of immortality” (LSB 624.5).

And so today’s propers offer a rich portrait of Christ through blood and bread. Through His blood, He paid the price for our sins on the cross and now offers that blood to us in the Lord’s Supper. Through bread, He foreshadowed His presence in all the bread stories of the Bible, and now uses bread to feed us His own body. Once more from our distribution hymn: “The body of God’s Lamb we eat, A priestly food and priestly meat; On sin-parched lips the chalice pours His quenching blood that life restores” (LSB 624.6). + INJ + Amen.

Rev. Brian Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Bayside, NY

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